Last Thursday, Staples High School returned to full, in-person learning for the first time in over a year.
Though around 20% of the approximately 1,900 or so students have opted to remain full-time distance learners, the halls once again seem crowded. The classrooms, library and cafeteria pulse once more with energy.
Brian Fullenbaum is a Staples junior. He plays varsity squash, and is involved with both the Service League of Boys and the LINK Crew mentorship program with freshmen. He writes:
This is a landmark for the community. My friends and I didn’t see this
coming, because we just switched to 75% capacity a few weeks ago.
Although I would rather be home some of the days to grab the extra 45 minutes of sleep, quarantining has forced me to understand that it is actually easier to learn when attending school in person.
I woke up as slow as ever last Thursday, but I was excited to see people I haven’t
seen in months.
When I pulled into the Wakeman parking lot, I was stunned by the number of cars. The traffic jam was similar to the times my brother navigated us through the parking lots each morning more than a year ago.
I think all of the students were anxious to experience school at full capacity. The second I walked into Staples, it was odd to see so many masked, covered faces in one enclosed place.
But there was a sense of warmth and nostalgia. Almost every seat was filled. I thought back to my freshman days, when I was eager to be called on and itched to be a part of a class conversation.
Students could now walk both ways in the hallways, instead of having to follow one-way arrows around the school. It was lonely with the arrows, since all I could see was the backs of heads staring at me.
I wasn’t sure if I would even know how to react to my friends walking towards me on the other side of the hallway, but I was psyched to see them. I was finally giving smiles (under my mask) and head nods as they walked towards me.
Weeks ago, I had classes where I was the only kid in the classroom and everybody else was online. Now the entire setup was flipped. Sitting back down in a full classroom of juniors felt more studious. Students were working with each other on assignments, creating a more interactive learning environment.
My teacher forgot to tell the one Zoom student that the class was going for a mask break outside, which I am sure left that student in confusion as he stared into a silent camera for 10 minutes.
But for the most part, teachers are doing a great job adjusting back to full capacity.
The cafeteria felt more crowded than it did pre-COVID. Usually students eat outside, but because it rained the day before and those seats were wet, everyone huddled around each other in the cafeteria.
I felt for the teachers as I watched them constantly break up groups of students and tell them to “please socially distance.”
The parking lot at Staplels was more crowded than in this drone shot from last spring.
The packed lines reminded me of the time I raced my friends from the 3rd floor all the way over to the sandwich line. Although I didn’t race anyone this time, I finally experienced that sense of urgency, as I rushed to the lunch lines.
One might describe the total capacity lunch as a socially distanced nightmare, but as the excitement of returning to school and seeing friends diminishes, I am sure things will settle down.
Opening up to full capacity was a huge change in the way of life at school. I will need to figure out how to get more sleep.
But I think that Staples is making the best of what they have. I am happy to be back full time.
At most schools, the assistant principal handles discipline. He — and it’s often a male — breaks up fights, hands out suspensions and tracks down truants.
Staples is not most schools.
There, assistant principals have a wide range of tasks. They handle every aspect of student life, from curriculum and the daily calendar to clubs and activities. They’re involved in attendance, academic integrity, even proms.
That’s just part of the job description. Meghan Ward, for example, oversees online courses, the independent learning experience and Pathways, Staples’ alternative school program. She works with academic support classes, and — particularly this year, with COVID complications — collaborates closely with guidance counselors, pupil personnel services, social workers and psychol0gists to keep students on track.
All of those skills and experiences will help Ward when she leaves Staples this summer. The assistant principal has been named principal of John Read Middle School in Redding.
Meghan Ward (Photo/Dan Woog)
It’s a homecoming of sorts. Ward attended Joel Barlow High School — which her new school feeds into — and loved it. Among other activities, she was Student Council president.
She enjoyed an introductory education class at Providence College, but graduated from Southern Connecticut State University as a political science major.
Her first job was with US Tobacco in Greenwich. Working in governmental affairs, she met an intern who headed back to school for a master’s in education.
That piqued her interest. Ward shifted gears, got her own master’s at Sacred Heart University, and student taught in social studies at Trumbull High, under Jon Shepro.
In 2004, 2 positions opened up a Staples. Shepro and Ward filled them both.
Ward spent 9 years in the classroom. She credits “awesome administrators” with allowing her to “take risks and try new things.” Student-centered classrooms encouraged students to think for themselves.
“I was given a gift to be creative and independent,” she says. “We teach to common standards, but the way we deliver education is our own. The 25 kids in my classroom may be very different from the ones next door.”
Along the way, Ward became certified as an administrator. When she and her husband moved to Maine, she was hired as dean of students for a regional high school.
She loved the opportunity to get to know both “the whole student” — not just the one in a Global Themes or US history class — and the entire sophomore class. The challenges — academic, social, interpersonal, family dynamics — were fascinating. Her principal and administrative team were “totally student-centered.”
The school included an alternative program. It was Ward’s first experience with teenagers who — though school was “not their thing” — followed a positive path.
“Every kid had a passion for something,” Ward says. “One of them loved welding. We figured out how he could get credit for it. Creativity can change the course of someone’s life. If you listen and believe in them when they’re at their lowest point, they’ll respond.”
Ward’s next position was assistant position at Old Orchard Beach High School. She was involved in the alternative education program there too.
She moved on to the principalship of York High School. “An amazing experience!” she says. “The staff and Board of Education were very supportive. The amount of time they committed to kids was incredible.”
She left with regrets, when her family returned to Connecticut. Fortuitously, an assistant principal’s position opened up at Staples, in the fall of 2016.
Ward worked with then-principal James D’Amico to develop the Pathways program. Among her dozens of responsibilities, it’s been among the most rewarding.
The main classroom at Pathways. Other rooms — and the lounge — branch off from here.
She takes the “path” idea literally. “We can actually help create a way for each kid to get what they need to succeed,” she says.
Returning as an administrator to the high school where she once taught was eye-opening. She gained a deeper understanding of the interrelationships between all staff members, and the importance of listening closely to others in order to make the best decisions for “the student, the building and the town.”
Staples is the only Connecticut school building Ward ever worked in. She is grateful for the support and opportunities she’s received, from “special, incredible” colleagues.
Now she heads to a different one — and with a different age group.
“After embracing 9th graders coming to Staples, I’m excited to work with middle schoolers,” Ward says. “Fifth through 8th graders: What do those pathways look like?”
As usual, she’ll listen — to students, their families, the community.
Then Ward — the mother of a 5th and 7th grader herself — will take the lessons she’s learned in Westport and Maine, and apply them to John Read Middle School.
Posted onMarch 17, 2021|Comments Off on Staples: Full In-Person Learning Begins March 25
More than a year after going fully remote — and after beginning the 2020-21 school year at 50% capacity, then transitioning to 75% this winter — Staples High School returns to full in-person education on March 25.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:
The district maintained a very conservative approach to our schooling models for the first half of the year. Nearly 7 weeks ago, based on our local experience, input from our public health partners, and a projected drop in infection rates, we reopened our elementary and middle schools for full in-person learning.
Additionally, on March 1, Staples High School increased access for students by implementing a 3 day a week, 75% in-person model.
Since then, our faculty and staff have done a remarkable job and we have experienced great success. The work of our professional educators this year simply cannot be overstated.
We continue to maintain a responsibility to minimizing virus spread in our community. Yet we must balance that responsibility with our obligations to overall student wellness, most significantly, their mental and emotional well-being. As a result, on Thursday March 25, Staples High School will reopen for full in-person learning.
Staples High School’s parking lots will be more filled on March 25. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)
Contact Tracing and Quarantines
In reviewing local data, I found that we have contact traced and quarantined over 2,800 students and adults this year. Out of the 2,800+ quarantined, only 6 who were determined to be close contacts (.002%) have tested positive for COVID.
Additionally, to our knowledge, of the 232 students who have tested positive for COVID, there have been zero known cases of “student to adult virus transmission,” and zero known cases of students experiencing serious health complications as a result of infection.
As a result of this data, we engaged the health district to seek support for revisiting the definition of a close contact, and the duration of quarantines. Currently, close contacts are defined as being within 6 feet of a known positive COVID case for an accumulation of 15 minutes, while quarantines for close contacts are 10 days in length.
Based on our data, we will now begin to define close contacts as those within 3 feet of a known COVID positive case, not 6 feet. Recent literature has pointed to this change in guidance. Considering that our entire population is masked at all times, our local health district and medical advisor support this change as well. We will continue to monitor our practices and make adjustments as needed.
However, given the trends in data collected by the health district, we will continue to recommend a 10 day quarantine for those determined to be close contacts. Although the CDC allows for a 70day quarantine following a negative test on day 5, the health district shared that there are more than a few cases in the community, not in our schools, in which a close contact tested positive after day 7. A change was made to reduce the length of quarantine in December from 14 days to 10 days. This standard will remain for the foreseeable future.
“Sophie in Quarantine” (Claudia Rossman)
In an effort to provide additional time to support our distance learners, and to accommodate our teachers who have taken on additional responsibilities during arrival and dismissal, the Wednesday early dismissals will continue for the foreseeable future.
However, Staples will begin to provide in-person learning on our Wednesday early dismissals beginning on April 21 within the new full in-person model beginning March 25. Our middle schools are working to revisit their schedule following the April break. More information will be forthcoming about any potential changes to the middle school schedule in the near future.
On March 19, 2021, Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 9S regarding travel will change from an executive order to a recommended practice. Under this order, anyone traveling outside of New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island, for a period of time longer than 24 hours, requires a negative COVID test within 72 hours of return to CT, or a 10 day quarantine.
If using the testing option, an individual should remain in self-quarantine until a negative test is obtained. In collaboration with the WWHD and our medical advisor, the district will continue to support this practice. Please contact your school nurse if you have any questions.
Ending the Year with Normalcy
We have placed a high priority on ending the year with as much “normalcy” as possible. Our thinking is that the more normalcy we end the year with, the easier it will be to start the new year with normalcy. As we plan our end-of-year events and the daily operations, we will look to continue to bring a sense of normalcy to our schools.
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The social, mental and physical health — and the health of several school buildings — were the focuses at last night’s Board of Education meeting.
On the student side, Brian Fullenbaum reports that townwide health and physical education coordinator Chris Wanner and Staples phys. ed. teacher CJ Shamas presented an update on social and emotional learning.
Embedded in the high school curriculum for juniors, it addresses social and emotional skills from a growth mindset point of view. Video testimonials showed students enjoying the health classes.
Board member Elaine Whitney and Westport Public Schools chief financial officer Elio Longo provided an update on capital projects.
Paving is needed at Greens Farms, Coleytown and Long Lots Elementary Schools, plus Bedford Middle and Wakeman. All roads there are at least 20 years old.
The $1.6 million estimated cost is significantly lower than expected, due to a partnership with the town’s Department of Public Works.
The Saugatuck Elementary roof project is out to bid. Work is scheduled for this summer. It should proceed without state assistance, because the roof is beyond its useful life.
A new roof is planned for Saugatuck Elementary School.
Staples’ roof replacement can be deferred for a year. State assistance may be available.
In the area of capital maintenance projects — from $500,000 to $2 million — superintendent Thomas Scarice noted that outside companies can help maximize value, and stay on schedule and within budget. He would like to create a school modernization master plan, then use help from an OPM to get through the process, including larger maintenance projects. The board discussed collaborating with the town on capital projects.
The board approved a new policy for minority staff recruitment. It updates the former document with more inclusionary language.
Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur’s COVID report noted a slight uptick in cases in Westport schools last week, to 13 cases. The district’s first vaccination clinic for staff — run in conjunction with Weston and Easton — is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday, March 3) in the Staples fieldhouse. 250 people are expected to get shots.
Greg Naughton’s new film, “The Independents,” will be released virtually to art house cinemas on February 26. The wider on-demand release comes March 9.
But there’s a special screening — with Q-and-A afterward — at Fairfield’s FTC on Saturday, February 27.
That’s close to here. But the film has an even closer connection: Some of it was shot in Westport.
“The Independents” is a comedy/drama about 3 solo artists who collide at the same crossroads and discover harmony. They share a rollercoaster ride across America for a shot at musical glory.
The film stars (and was inspired by) the real-life folk-rock Sweet Remains. The Hollywood Reporter called it “an extremely engaging film (that) subverts all the clichés of the star-is-born story and proves there are plenty of offbeat ways to satisfy audiences without hewing to formula.”
Naughton — a longtime Westport resident — had quite a bit to do with “The Independents.” In addition to writing, directing and producing, he stars in it.
Click here for tickets and more information. Click below for the trailer.
As of February 1, 2,289 Westport. That’s 8% of our total population.
According to Westport Patch, we have 2,094 residents over the age of 75 — the first group in line for the vaccine (along with medical personnel and first responders). Nearly 54 percent — a total of 1,095 — have received their first dose.
Westport has plenty of small, independently owned liquor stores. Nearly every Westporter has a favorite.
Now a “superstore” has entered the mix.
Yesterday, trucks delivered supplies to BevMax’s new outlet in the former Pier 1 store — the Julien’s Pizza shopping center on Post Road East. In other words: directly opposite Castle Wine & Spirits.
BevMax has 8 locations in Fairfield and New Haven Counties, plus a nationwide shipping office in Stamford. There’s a BevMax in Norwalk, near Stew Leonard’s.
They bought the license of Saugatuck Grain + Grape, which had relocated from Railroad Place to Post Road West. The owner of a liquor store can move anywhere in Westport that zoning allows.
Last year, plans were underway to convert the entire Julien’s shopping center — except for the Bluepoint Wellness medical marijuana dispensary — into medical offices. The plaza has since reverted to retail use.
Seven Staples High School athletes signed letters of intent yesterday to play sports at NCAA Division I universities.
Congratulations to (from left in photo below): Kevin Lynch, University of Massachusetts lacrosse; Julia DiConza, Lehigh University lacrosse; Carter Kelsey, Seton Hall University baseball; Autumn Smith, Marist College soccer; Laine Ambrose, Boston College field hockey; Shira Parower, James Madison University lacrosse; Sam Milberg, College of the Holy Cross football.
MoCA Westport and Up|Next Teens are partnering to present a Winter Lights Festival at MoCA. It’s set for Saturday, February 27 (noon to 6 p.m.).
The Festival features a maker and crafts space in a large outdoor tent, with supplies and step-by-step instructions for families to work together to create winter-themed decorations. The decorations will be incorporated into a walk-through Light Path, to be lit at sun down. The public can view the experience through the following weekend.
Also planned: live performances by high school musicians, food from The Melt truck, and hot cocoa.
The Festival includes free entry to MoCA ’s exhibition “Hindsight is 2020,” showcasing nearly 200 high school student artists from across the region.
Posted onJanuary 15, 2021|Comments Off on Westport Schools’ Full-Time Reopening Set
Elementary and middle school students will return full-time to their buildings on February 1. Staples High School will follow soon after.
That’s the word from Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice. He says:
This school year has been a physical, emotional and psychological test of our collective endurance. We close out the first half of the school year at the end of this month. In the midst of the uncertainty and episodic chaos, I hold a very optimistic perspective for the second half of the school year.
As I shared with the parent community on December 22, I recommended a cautious approach to our school reopening this year.
However, based on 4 months of experience in preventing virus transmission in our buildings, and the similar success of peer districts in our region who have fully reopened, along with the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, I began conversations intended to increase access to on-site schooling for the second half of the school year. These discussions included a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students, and increased access for on-site schooling at Staples….
We have remained on the course I illustrated for the school community on December 22. There is a great deal of work that has been done, and continues to be done, to safely welcome our students back for additional on-site schooling. However, we remain on the timeline shared on December 22.
Those who serve our students, namely our faculty and support staff, are the reason for our success. Our collective support of these professionals is critical to the success we have enjoyed for decades. Yet as a system, our primary mission is to serve and develop our students. In the course of this work, challenges emerge in an ordinary year. In a pandemic the challenges grow exponentially.
As a community, we are faced with obvious public health obligations to ensure that we are responsibly doing our part as a school system to minimize virus transmission. However, we are also obligated to balance our public health responsibilities with the perhaps less obvious risks that have impacted our children as a result of the reduction of on-site schooling.
The academic, social/emotional, and psychological impact on our students is not captured each evening on the news in cases per 100,000, or in positive test rates. Yet the impact is real, consequential, and warrants mitigation.
It is time to move to bring these two obligations a bit more into balance.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)
In October, the district partnered with the Tri State Consortium and conducted focus groups with almost 250 teachers, students and parents to identify critical problems for us to solve this year as a result of delivering a pandemic education.
Many of the problems that were identified can be addressed, in part, through greater access to additional on-site schooling.
The lack of connections with peers and adults, the academic struggles, and the ongoing challenge of engaging students can all be tempered with additional on-site schooling. This move will not eliminate these problems, nor will it eliminate the profound social/emotional and psychological issues that have emerged for some children, but it will ease the effects on the children we serve.
The benefits full on-site schooling are so important, particularly after long periods of remote and hybrid instruction this year and last year, that bringing our responsibilities to public health and our students into balance is warranted.
With less pandemic experience in the fall, I was less inclined to increase the levels of on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level which provided an “everyday” model. A move to a “pandemic classroom” was not warranted given the uncertainty of the coming months in the fall.
That said, given our experience since then, and the experience of our peers in the region, along with the significant benefits of full on-site schooling, in my judgement it is time to begin this transition.
The Transition Process Elementary Schools
The transition to full time on-site schooling will begin with a full asynchronous remote day for all elementary students on Wednesday January 27 in order to provide teachers the time needed to accommodate their classrooms for full enrollment.
A special 2-day transition schedule (January 28 and 29) will be shared next week by the elementary principals to their school communities which will illustrate how they will gradually welcome back their entire student body, with the first full K-5 day of on-site schooling scheduled for the first day of the second half of the school year, Monday February 1.
From that point forward, elementary students will engage in full school days, with changes made to arrival/dismissal, bus seating assignments, lunch, and recess. The principals will communicate this information, and more, to their families in the coming days.
Given the need for our elementary faculty to deliver their instruction in a pandemic setting, and all of the professional challenges associated with this, like most districts in our region, Wednesdays will remain an on-site half day for students. Afternoons will be reserved for teachers to work with colleagues as they continue to solve instructional problems unlike any they have experienced in their careers as a result of COVID-19.
Greens Farms and 4 other elementary schools will reopen full-time on February 1.
Lunch will be served in homerooms and efforts will be made to “de-densify” the classrooms where appropriate when serving lunch by accessing other areas of the school building.
A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).
The distance learning option will remain for students and this program will be largely unchanged, providing consistency for this population of students. More information about the distance learning option will be provided by the elementary principals in communication to their families.
The middle schools will also transition to full time on-site schooling on the first day of the third quarter, February 1. The middle schools will transition the first phase during the month of February and the second phase on March 1. Phase 1 will have all students return in person for full day instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, while maintaining the existing Distance Learning half-day schedule on Wednesdays (February 3, 10 and 24 only). Phase 2 will commence on March 1 with students attending school in person all 5 days, eliminating the Distance Learning Wednesday….
A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school). Distance learners at the middle school level will continue to have access to live streaming.
Coleytown (above) and Bedford Middle Schools will also reopen full-time on February 1.
Like the elementary and middle school levels, the Staples team has also developed plans for an increase in on-site schooling for students. However, given our tragic loss last week of a senior and the impact on the school of working with students to process the events at the nation’s capital, for good reasons, the Staples plans are a week or so behind schedule.
In full candor, my expectation last week was that the Staples team would fasten their attention to the work of supporting students and staff as a result of a heartbreaking loss to the school community.
That said, it is expected that these plans will be reviewed and considered for implementation in the coming weeks. The perhaps less obvious effects of the pandemic (social/emotional, psychological) have hit our high school population particularly hard and we have an obligation to respond. I am confident that we will.
Staples High School will reopen full-time shortly after the other schools. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)
The Unintended Consequences
Along with perhaps lessening the negative academic, social/emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic on our students, there will be some unintended consequences. With more students on site it is very likely that we will see increased numbers of students and staff recommended to quarantine in light of being considered a close contact to a positive case.
Additionally, it is also likely that in some instances, a full, temporary school closure might be warranted in response to a positive case that includes many close contacts. Staffing our schools has been a challenge, and that challenge has the potential to grow during full on-site schooling.
We expect an increase in the number of distance learners, as this has been the case with our regional peers. Districts in the region that have successfully transitioned to full on-site schooling have reported a 5%-10% increase in distance learners at the outset of implementing full on-site schooling.
Finally, our buses will likely see more students on board. Vigilance in mask wearing on our buses, and in all settings will be critical to our continued success.
As I shared on December 22, given the performance of public schools across the state, and here in Westport, I am confident that our resilience will continue to maintain high levels of safety for staff and students. It is clear that with continued vigilance in mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely. Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child.
Communication throughout the system will be essential to making appropriate changes as necessary. We will continue to monitor our performance and the effectiveness of our safety measures. In response, we reserve the right to make programmatic adjustments along the way.
You can expect building principals to follow up with families in the coming days as we prepare for this change in learning models.
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Posted onNovember 11, 2020|Comments Off on Staples, Middle Schools Go All Remote Thursday and Friday
With increasing staff absences due to quarantine requirements, and more confirmed cases of COVID, Staples High and Bedford/Coleytown Middle Schools will move to all remote learning on Thursday and Friday.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice said in an email to parents:
“For November 12th and 13th, Bedford/Coleytown Middle School and Staples High School will be operating through a full remote teaching model for all students and staff. The principals will be sending further information this evening about the schedules for both days.
“The decision to move our secondary schools to a remote model for two days came as a result of several individuals testing positive, and the subsequent need to quarantine many individuals and continue contact tracing. Due to the number of quarantined staff members, we are unable to appropriately staff our secondary buildings and supervise our students.
“As of the time I am writing to you this evening we have 12 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the following schools, including 5 new cases in the past few hours:
Coleytown Elementary School – 2
Greens Farms Elementary School – 2
Kings Highway Elementary School – 1
Bedford/Coleytown Middle School – 2
Staples High School – 5
“Our mitigating measures continue to be effective in minimizing and preventing spread in our schools. However, it is critical that the entire community remains vigilant in taking all precautions to prevent further community transmission.”
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